When a high-profile slate of Republican speakers strides across the convention stage in Tampa, they will represent an impressively wide swath: They are young and old (South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley is 40; Arizona Sen. John McCain will turn 76 while the day after the convention ends), racially diverse and include several women. In short: Not the Republican Party usually seen on TV.
The advantages of putting a fresh new face on a typically rigid and ideologically pure party are obvious — but the move could also reveal the many fault lines within the GOP ranks, from immigration to abortion.
Some observers say it’s smart to show off more than just the Party of No that runs things on Capitol Hill. But by exposing some of the divisions in the GOP on the national stage, some longstanding Republican family feuds could spill out into the public.
In fact, that will have already happened weeks before the first RNC speaker takes the stage. After the first group of speakers was announced this week — a pack that included pro-choice Condoleezza Rice, the mavericky McCain and Chick-Fil-A champion Mike Huckabee — causing Team Santorum to immediately cry foul.
A longtime Rick Santorum aide said conservatives would be “quite disturbed” if their guy didn’t get a slot. Santorum gave a voice to the evangelical and tea party wings of the party in the same way Huckabee did in 2008, “galvanizing the support of conservatives within the party,” according to the aide. Picking him for a speaking slot, the aide insisted, would be “strategically the right thing to do.”
A day later, convention organizers granted Santorum supporters their wish, announcing the former Pennsylvania senator will speak, along with former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush (R), who is well to the left of much of his party on immigration issues. Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY), one of the few people on the planet who can see a bright side to the looming defense budget sequestration, was also among the new round of convention speakers.
That means the lineup so far includes speakers who are anti-abortion and abortion rights supporters; those who support comprehensive immigration support to a governor (Haley) who signed a state immigration law singled out as legalized racial profiling; the former nominee who recently called for American planes to bomb Syria to the senator who decries “unconstitutional wars.”
It’s a motley crew. But with the GOP going through a pitched battle for ideological purity on the primary campaign trail, it’s unclear whether everyone will be able to play nice in such a high-charged environment.
Two longtime Republican strategists say the convention will tell the right story for the GOP.
“Certainly, you can find instances of folks with philosophical disagreements on core issues having both spoken at the convention — Linda Lingle, who actually gave the speech nominating Sarah Palin in 2008, is pro-choice, where Palin is clearly very strongly pro-life,” said Liz Mair, a former adviser to Rick Perry’s presidential campaign and Carly Fiorina’s California Senate bid. “I don’t think it’s at all likely that you’ll see people taking shots at each other from the podium — even where we’re talking about Republicans who have reputations as fire-breathers and who have proved very willing to pick a fight, like Rick Santorum.”
Ana Navarro, a former adviser to McCain’s 2008 bid and Jon Huntsman’s presidential run, says the diverse lineup will show the reality of the GOP.
“It is not a false image of ideological diversity. There is genuine difference of thought in [the] Republican Party and Democrat Party,” she said. “You can’t gather thousands of party faithful representing different regions, economic status, ages, backgrounds and faiths and expect we will all sing from same hymn book on every issue. I’m very pleased with the slate of speakers announced so far, some I agree with more than others. We should have a big enough tent to fit everyone.”